• October 11, 2022

Five Things You Need to Know About Redistricting

Once every 10 years, redistricting alters the political landscape, changing everything from the number of lawmakers representing each state to the district boundaries in state legislatures and Congress. This year’s process will not bring radical disruption, but there are things every government affairs team should understand. Here's what you need to know.

Like a comet or some other celestial event, redistricting flies through U.S. politics every 10 years altering some parts of the political spectrum permanently and leaving others relatively untouched. This year is the year, and while there’s nothing too radical in store there will be some key changes that every government affairs team should understand.

For the uninitiated—and there are many, given that millions of people have joined the workforce since the last redistricting—let’s start with the basics. Redistricting is a process that follows every U.S. Census, ensuring that legislative districts in Congress and state legislatures adequately reflect America’s latest population count. The Census dictates how many seats in Congress will be given to each state in a process known as “reapportionment.” States often lose or gain seats in the U.S. House as part of the process, and this year is no different.

States then redraw the maps for districts in Congress and in state legislatures to ensure they are roughly equal in population, taking care to abide by the Voting Rights Act and various other state and federal laws. Districts can be changed, added or subtracted. Political parties fight over the boundaries in an effort to gain an advantage, and those fights often spill over into court.

Before you dismiss it as a turn of the screw in politics, consider this: more than 110 million people will vote in a new federal, state or local district after this year’s redistricting is done, according to KnowWho data. There is work ahead for government affairs teams, who must meet with new lawmakers, educate advocates, realign state operatives and make other changes to reflect the new political landscape.

To help your team understand and adjust, here are some of the most important things to know about this year’s redistricting process.

There Will Be Political Changes

Redistricting follows a routine. First, states gain or lose seats in Congress based on the new population numbers. Then, districts are redrawn in a process that is different in every state (in 11 states, the process is left to an outside panel while in 39 states the job is done by state lawmakers). Both of these processes are well underway.

In this year’s redistricting, five states each gained one House seat, including Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon, according to Census numbers reported by BallotPedia. Only Texas gained two seats. Seven states lost House seats, including California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Six states only have one Congressional seat, and therefore are unlikely to see much impact as a result of redistricting. This includes Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.

While the U.S. Senate will not be affected, the boundaries of all 440 seats in the U.S. House (435 voting seats, plus non-voting seats representing U.S. territories) could feel some impact. But that impact can vary a great deal.

A version of this same process takes place in all 50 state legislatures nationwide.

The New Landscape Impacts This Year’s Election

Some of the matchups in November’s election reflect changes brought about by redistricting, as incumbents change districts to maximize their advantages and challengers look for opportunities.

In Texas, for example, Democratic Representative Vicente Gonzalez, who currently represents the state’s 15th district, decided to run in the newly-redrawn 34th district, which is now more favorable to Democratic candidates (and is also now the district that contains his home). Oddly, however, he is not the incumbent, even though he has served three terms in the House. That title goes to his opponent, Mayra Flores, the first Latina Republican that Texas has ever sent to Congress. Flores won a special election in June but must beat Gonzalez to hold the seat beyond January.

If he wins, Gonzalez will move from the 15th district to the 34th district when the new Congress is seated in January. However, regardless of the outcome, his decision to move left an open seat in the 15th district, where two Latina candidates, Democrat Michelle Vallejo and Republican Monica De La Cruz, are now battling to win a district that is 74% Hispanic and where neither party holds a decisive advantage.

All of this was unlikely to happen without redistricting, and there are similar situations taking place nationwide as parties and candidates try to use the new congressional boundaries to gain an edge.

Your Team Will Need to Adjust

Because the political landscape will change, with lawmakers coming and going both in Congress and the state legislatures, teams will have to adjust their advocacy program to reflect the new reality.

For example, your organization will likely spend time in the next few months getting to know new lawmakers and educating them on your priorities, especially in districts where your organization has a facility or employs a lot of people. There will also be work ahead introducing new lawmakers to your audience, which will facilitate future campaigns. Advocates are more likely to take action if they know a bit about the lawmakers they are contacting.

Redistricting may also require you to realign state resources, such as lobbyists, operatives or volunteers to better match redrawn districts to your current organizational setup. This too could require education in cases where people need to meet new lawmakers and staff to learn their policy priorities and how they prefer to communicate.

The amount of work will be different at every organization, depending on the size and focus of your advocacy program. But almost every team is likely to have some work ahead.

Not Everything Happens at Once

Federal redistricting will take effect January 3, when the new Congress is sworn in, and some states will also implement their redistricting in January. But not all of them. The truth is that redistricting in state legislatures can be implemented whenever states find it beneficial to do so, and that means the schedule varies.

For example, eight states will implement redistricting in November of this year, including Hawaii, Indiana, Tennessee, Delaware, Nevada, South Carolina, Florida and Oklahoma. Six states will do so in December of this year, including Idaho, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, California, Maine and New Hampshire. Four states will not implement their changes until 2024, including Louisiana, New Jersey, Virginia and Mississippi

If your team advocates in the states, make sure you know when redistricting takes effect in the areas where you operate.

Redistricting Won’t End Soon

One important point is to recognize that this is a dynamic process that goes on and on. While the vast majority of redistricting, state and federal, will go into effect in the next three months, court challenges in specific districts can go on for years. Perhaps the most egregious example of this took place in North Carolina, where a court ruled that the state’s federal congressional districts were unconstitutional in 2018—eight years after redistricting took place.

We can expect court challenges and delays in certain parts of the country. Whether that matters to your team will be a question answered differently at every organization. Pay attention to the states that matter to you and make adjustments as needed. Thousands of organizations will be adapting and keeping their advocacy moving. Your team can, too.